A year on, US, Cuba no longer enemies, but not exactly friends
Hector Velasco July 19, 2016
Havana (AFP) – A year after restoring diplomatic ties, the United States
and Cuba are far from fully normalizing their troubled relationship,
which remains haunted by Cold War ghosts despite cautious ongoing talks.
In a reconciliation that was long unthinkable, the two countries
restored ties on July 20, 2015, 54 years after severing them in the
aftermath of the Cuban Revolution.
The moment was marked by the reopening of Cuba’s embassy in Washington,
followed by the official reopening of the US embassy in Havana four
But don’t confuse diplomatic relations with friendship, cautioned former
Cuban diplomat .
“Cuba and the United States have never been friends and probably never
will be,” he said.
The restored relationship is more like a “coexistence of opposites,” he
US President Barack Obama’s awkward visit in March to his Cuban
counterpart, Raul Castro, sealed the rapprochement they announced in
December 2014, but underlined the huge gulf still separating the
countries despite the mere 160 kilometers (100 miles) between them.
Obama called for democratic reforms on the communist island, urged the
regime to safeguard human rights and famously let his hand go limp when
Castro tried to raise it in a victory salute at the end of a testy joint
A month later, Cuba’s communist party held a congress where it defied
calls for greater opening, at which Castro condemned what he called
external pressure “to end the revolution.”
His predecessor, older brother and revolutionary comrade Fidel Castro
lambasted Obama’s visit, telling Cubans not to be taken in by the US
president’s “syrupy words” and recalling the island’s long enmity with
“the empire,” including Washington’s backing for the failed invasion of
Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
– Cruise ships, hotels –
The main outstanding grudge is the financial and trade embargo the US
has imposed on Cuba since 1962.
Obama has used executive power to chip away at it, but has failed to
persuade a Congress controlled by his Republican opponents to scrap it
Cuba is also demanding the United States return its naval base at
Guantanamo Bay, end policies that fast-track Cuban immigrants for US
citizenship and pay it billions of dollars in reparations.
But despite the lingering tension, there are visible changes on the ground.
Cruise ships now sail from Miami to Havana. Travelers can stay at the
Four Points by Sheraton, recently opened by American hotel group
Starwood. And regular commercial flights between the two countries are
due to begin in the coming months.
“It’s a very young process,” said Arboleya. But it started from “total
divorce,” he added.
The former British ambassador to Cuba, Paul Hare, said both sides remain
“wary” of each other.
“They know that every sign of ‘normality’ will be interpreted as a kind
of ideological surrender,” he said.
“So they want to keep relations low-key and neither friendly nor
antagonistic. Discussions on transport, the environment, security, etc.
will continue to be the low-risk strategy.”
– ‘Mixed bag’ –
At a human level, the rapprochement has sent hordes of people across the
Florida Straits in both directions.
Cubans, fearing an end to their preferential treatment in the US
immigration system, are flocking there in larger numbers: Arrivals
increased 78 percent last year, to more than 43,000, according to the
Pew Research Center.
American visitors to Cuba have meanwhile surged 84 percent, despite the
ban on tourism under the embargo.
In the United States, the question is how the November presidential
election will impact the nascent thaw.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties’ presumptive nominees,
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have voiced support for the
rapprochement, though Trump said the US should have made a “better deal.”
In Cuba, the question is how long it will take for reconciliation to
boost an economy left adrift by the collapse of the Soviet Union and
more recently the foundering of key backer Venezuela.
For Cubans, “the outcome has been a mixed bag,” said Michael Shifter,
head of the Inter-American Dialogue research center.
“This process has only served to reveal how deep Cuba’s political and
economic problems go, and how complicated they will be to fix,” he said.
Source: A year on, US, Cuba no longer enemies, but not exactly friends –